Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

Of Interrupted Rosaries and Guardian Angels

28 Sep

angel

“Invoke your Guardian Angel that he illuminate you and will guide you. God has given him to you for this reason. Therefore use him!”
~ St. Padre Pio

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Convert Companions: Of Merton & Waugh, Me and You

19 Aug

merton-and-waugh-a-monk-a-crusty-old-man-and-the-seven-storey-mountain-18

“Friendship is only possible with people similar to ourselves
and those to whom we are bound by good will.”
~ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

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Of the Advent Swell and the Pregnant Pause

23 Dec

MUA_ITS_00098_resize

Do you not know that your body is a temple
of the Holy Spirit within you?
~ St. Paul

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Of May Crowning, Corniness, and the 4-H Fair

17 May

“It turns out that Mary is a really big deal for the Catholics.”
~ Dave Barry

What a sap I am.May-Procession-005

Last Friday was May Crowning at my parish, and so I arrived loaded for bear: Two clean hankies at the ready, not to mention optimal pew positioning – close to the center aisle, but not too close to anyone I knew.

Why? It’s so predictable: Once the procession begins and we start singing those corny Marian songs, I commence blubbering – like clockwork, every year. Usually I can hold off through “Immaculate Mary” and “Sing of Mary,” but the clincher is always “Queen of the May:”

Bring flowers of the fairest,
Bring flowers of the rarest.

Picture the children in their Sunday best, with hands pressed together and eyes (for the most part) directed forward, solemnly approaching the statue of Mary in the sanctuary.

Our full hearts are swelling,
Our glad voices telling,
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale.

And then there’s us in the back pews, the moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, oohing and aahing, snapping photos, recording videos.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Even with the distractions and the pictures, how can we resist being drawn into the schoolchildren’s sweet devotional gesture? I know I can’t. I sob, dry my eyes, and sob some more – a  mawkish mess. Sure it’s sentimental, saccharine even, but how any Catholic can withstand that surge of emotion is beyond me.

G.K. Chesterton had a similar idea when he wrote about Marian devotion – particularly the over-the-top sentimental variety:

In people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed. I want it to be what the Protestants are perfectly right in calling it; the badge and sign of a Papist. I want to be enthusiastic about the existence of the enthusiasm.

maycrowningHence enthusiasm (complete with sobs) at May Crowning, and almost without regard to one’s typical level of Marian fervor. It’s all about mom, after all – like Mother’s Day for Mary. We’re so glad to be doing something simply to please her and thank her. And like any good mom, Mary isn’t all that particular. She doesn’t care if it’s a dozen roses or a dandelion from the backyard – an expensive Hallmark card, or a scribbled crayon drawing on a paper scrap. What matters is that we remember – not for her sake, of course, but for our own. It’s good for children to remember their mothers.

It’s good, first of all, because gratitude is a character trait that must be cultivated, beginning with gratitude to our mothers. Our human moms gave us life; Mary gave us Jesus. “Let it be to me according to your word,” was her reply to Gabriel, and it was in that simple Fiat that we have any access to spiritual life at all. Moreover, not to be outdone in generosity, Jesus in turn gave us Mary. “Behold, your mother,” he told the Beloved Disciple, and, through him, all of the church – which is only fitting, given that the church is her own son’s Body.

As my pastor pointed out at Friday’s May Crowning, Mary’s care for us is an extension of the care she provided Jesus throughout his earthly life because now we are truly part of him, the Mystical Body of Christ. As such, we seek to be ever more conformed to his likeness, and it is here that Mary’s maternal care is preeminently manifest. John Paul II, quoting Lumen Gentium, wrote:

As Christians raise their eyes with faith to Mary in the course of their earthly pilgrimage, they “strive to increase in holiness.” Mary, the exalted Daughter of Sion, helps all her children, wherever they may be and whatever their condition, to find in Christ the path to the Father’s house.

Therein lies the second reason it’s always good to lavish our affection on Mary at opportune moments like a May Procession – when it’s easy, for example, and everybody is doing it. Such tokens establish (or reinforce) the habidorothyt of turning to her when it’s not so easy or pleasant. “Wherever they may be or whatever their condition,” the Pope noted. That means the mom who receives our blossoms and childish sentiments at May Crowning will also receive our pleas for assistance when our situations are much more dire and disturbing. “She is the Mother of fair love,” wrote Servant of God Dorothy Day, “of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope.” The former Bohemian and socialist, no stranger herself to the rougher sides of life, further expanded this theme:

No matter where it is, no matter how perverse and distorted, no matter how dark and tortured, there is still in all love a suggestion, a hint of this love of God.

Once again, we do well to remember that she is not particular, and her acceptance of our meager gestures, no matter how broken or bent, can and will transform them into glorious tributes.

That brings me to the St. Joseph County 4-H Fair. For the last few years, I’ve had the privilege, along with several local Knights of Columbus, of manning the Legion of Mary’s Catholic Information fair booth in the evenings. It’s a blast, and I look forward to it every year – almost like a mini-retreat. The Legion provides a wealth of pamphlets and written material about the Catholic Faith as well as information about various Catholic practices and prayers – all to the good. But my favorite part are the Rosaries – loads of them, and all free! When I relieve the Legion ladies who’ve been occupying the booth all day, the first thing I do is load up my arms with a variety of Rosaries – blue, pink, green, purple – and then stand out in front of the booth to pass them out.

This is when the fun begins, for it’s simply amazing how many folks will take them: Young, old, girls, boys, from every culture and walk of life, and certainly Catholics (regardless of how active they’ve been) as well as non-Catholics. “Really, it’s free?” they’ll ask.grange-fair-2

“You bet, and here’s a little booklet to tell you how to use it,” I’ll say, usually with the follow-up, “in case you’ve forgotten.”

Sure, some of the younger fair-goers will take a Rosary as a joke, but not as often as you’d think. Instead, when the non-Catholics hear about using the Rosary for prayer instead of just wearing it as an ironic accessory, quite a few grow curious and want to hear more.

“The Rosary isn’t about worshiping Mary,” I’ll tell them. “It’s actually about praying with Mary to her son. In fact, it’s asking the Mother of Christ to be our mother, too!”

Do they all get it? Will they all go home and pray their pink and green and purple Rosaries that night? Probably not – maybe never. Some of the Rosaries will collect dust in forgotten junk drawers; some will be discarded; others might be retained as good-luck charms. Yet the fair-goers who accepted them did so freely, and at some level the idea sunk in that an unwavering mother’s love was involved. That’s not mere sentimentality. It’s a seed that, with time and grace and Mary’s care, just may germinate and grow.

“All I think I ever asked of her,” Dorothy Day observed of Mary, “was that she should take care of me.” That’s not just a comforting notion for schoolchildren, and we needn’t be ashamed that it brings tears to our eyes.
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A version of this essay appeared on Catholic Exchange.

Tripping Over the Church

27 Apr

But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (St. Paul).

One of my students who is interested in Catholicism asked for something on the marytownEucharist a while back. I gave her Fr. Robert Barron’s book, and recently she was telling me how much she enjoyed it. Knowing that she was from the Chicago area, I mentioned that Fr. Barron was rector of Mundelein seminary. “There’s a Catholic seminary in Mundelein?” she asked, incredulously. “Where?”

I Googled it and showed her, and then pointed out Marytown, the nearby Franciscan shrine in Libertyville. That was even a bigger surprise. Turns out, she’s been driving right past Marytown to visit her grandmother for years, and never knew it was there. That’s surprising, especially if you know Marytown at all, because it’s hard to miss. But, of course, my student had no reason to keep an eye out for Marytown, and so it’s no wonder she overlooked it.

The whole exchange called to mind my one visit to Rome so many years ago. I was there with my folks and my sister, and we lodged at an inn within walking distance of the Vatican. After we slept off the worst of our jet lag, we decided to stroll over to catch a first glimpse of St. Peter’s. After we got vague directions from the hotel staff, we wandered off and naturally got completely lost. If you’ve been to Rome, you know: The neighborhood and streets in the immediate vicinity of St. Peter’s are crowded, even claustrophobic. It’s the closer we got to the square, the more we were convinced we had made a wrong turn.

Then, we turned a corner, and there it was: That massive pile, majestic and awesome, seemingly appearing out of nowhere – no, not appearing, looming, rising up, as if alive. What a shock! It took my breath away. How could something so extraordinarily huge be so hidden? In fact, if we hadn’t been looking for it – if we hadn’t known that it was in the vicinity – we might’ve missed it altogether. Either that, or we would’ve stumbled across it like a roadside historical marker hidden by an overgrown bush.

View-of-the-dome-of-the-Vaticans-Saint-Peters-Basilica-from-Borgo-Santo-Spirito-672x372Coming into the church was like that for me. My conversion was largely by way of Dorothy Day‘s life story and my experience of the Catholic Worker movement she helped found. As I discovered the Worker and its ethos of faltering aspirations to love sacrificially, it never occurred to me that its Catholic identity was essential to it.

But then I started reading G.K. Chesterton – a contemporary of Dorothy Day, and someone whose writings were familiar to her. Day’s dedication to the poor and to peace captivated my heart; Chesterton, on the other hand, captivated my thinking, and I was hooked.

Like this for example: “The Church is much larger inside than it is outside,” Chesterton wrote in his meditation on conversion, adding elsewhere the ironic observation that the Church is “larger than anything in the world; …indeed larger than the world.” That was certainly my experience. I encountered the Church as an accident – something that was seemed to be extraneous to the Catholic Worker shtick, not strictly essential. Yet, the more I got involved – the more I lived the life of the Worker from the inside – the more I discovered that it was truly bound up with Catholic belief and practice and Sacramental life. In a sense, by God’s grace, I had stumbled across the Church through my encounter with the Worker – that is, by walking into the Catholic Worker, I tripped over something infinitely bigger.

One of the earliest lessons in nursing school concerns preventing falls – assessing for fall risks, and then acting to mitigate those risks for patients in weakened conditions as much as possible. It’s pretty straightforward, really, and common sense, but it still bears emphasis: That falls can be often prevented by eliminating obstacles on the ground that people trip over.

Ah, but in religion? Falls and stumbles can be good – as in my case, to be sure, but, in general, for all of us, as Pope Francis pointed out in his homily at the canonization today: “The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith…. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness.”

Stumble on!

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

Saint TBA

1 Sep

There is only one tragedy, not to be a saint.
~ Leon Bloy

“More and more, I was wishing I could be Kyle Decker.”

So says Doug Barnes, the adolescent narrator of Dave Barry’s Christmas tale, The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog. As Doug tells it, Kyle excels at sports, is “cute” (according to the girls), and “doesn’t hack around” (according to the teachers). The problem for Doug, however, is that Kyle appears to have captured the heart of Judy Flanders, Doug’s big crush.

Kyle’s advantage seems formidable, which leads to Doug’s existential aspiration. Of course, we all know that Doug can’t be Kyle. Only Kyle can be Kyle. And Doug can only be Doug—plain, old Doug.

This story, and specifically Doug’s wish to take Kyle Decker’s place, came to mind as our pastor gave his “Our goal is to become saints” homily at the first-day-of-school Mass a couple weeks back. It’s a theme that runs through all his homilies: Everything—in school, in work, in life—everything has to be subservient to getting to heaven, to getting to Jesus in an ultimate and eternal way.

That’s as it should be. It’s basic to the Gospel message, and particularly underscored by the Second Vatican Council—the “universal call to holiness” they called it. Every follower of Jesus must seek to put away sin, and to grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and love—it’s not optional. All those saints we see depicted in church—the statues, icons, and stained glass windows? That’s supposed to be us someday: Citizens of heaven mingling with the angels and the holy ones around God’s throne forever.

C’mon, let’s be real, right? It’s a bit daunting, holiness and all. Saints are saints, and we’re, in a word, just…Dougs.

kolbeTake, for example, the saint commemorated at that first school Mass: St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Polish Franciscan of extraordinary resourcefulness and resolve, who made use of every form of media available at the time to spread the Gospel around the world—surely a patron saint of the communication age.

Yet Fr. Kolbe is best known for what he did at Auschwitz where he was imprisoned in 1941. There had been a successful prison outbreak, and the Nazis selected ten men to die for revenge and as a deterrent. When Fr. Kolbe found out that one of the men was a young husband and father, he volunteered to take his place—an offer the Nazis readily agreed to. Kolbe died in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941. And the man whose life was spared by Kolbe’s sacrifice? He survived the war, and even attended Kolbe’s canonization in 1982.

What a story! What a hero! Could I be a saint like Maximilan Kolbe?

Well, no—because I’m not Maximilian Kolbe. I mean, the chances are slim and none that I’d ever be given an opportunity to sacrifice my life for another person, but that’s not the point. If it were, I might be tempted to let myself off easy—you know, with a sigh of relief, and maybe a prayer or two for all those who still suffer religious persecution throughout the world.

So, no, I’m not called to be another St. Maximilan Kolbe, or any other canonized saint for that matter. Their stories are edifying, and their examples inspiring, but I’m called to be a different kind of saint—and it’s an even more unnerving prospect than trying to be another Maxilimilian. For I’m called to be a sanctified version of myselfto become, in fact, St. Rick Becker.

Not canonized, mind you, but a real saint all the same. It’s the goal of the Christian life, after allto become a citizen of heaven and to enter into that heavenly family reunion for all eternity. That’s what saints are, whether they’re officially recognized or not. And as humiliating as it is to suggest, it’s what God made me foryou, too! Needless to say, God does all the work, molding and prodding, shaping and pruning. As He goes about His business, we just need to avoid mucking things upand we even depend on Him to help us do that!

Dorothy Day, among others, would agree. Herself a candidate for official recognition as a saint these days, Dorothy had mucday1965h to say about holiness and sainthood. She strongly discouraged talk about her own sanctity, and was famous for saying, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

Yet Dorothy frequently stressed the requirement that every Christian live a holy life—that saintly living wasn’t reserved to the halo crowd, but was fundamental to the Faith. “All are called to be saints, not to do the extraordinary,” she wrote. “If sanctity depended on doing the extraordinary, there would be few saints.”

This is consistent with how she lived her life: Caring for the poor, standing up for justice, challenging the strong, guarding the week were, to her, the ordinary duties of anyone claiming the name Christian. Not to “earn” her salvation, but to “show” her salvation, as St. James argued. And she certainly wasn’t seeking to be a Great Saint. Instead, and despite her demurrals, she was simply seeking to become whom God intended her to be: Dorothy Day the saint.

And that’s our goal too—not to be little replicas of Dorothy Day or Maximilian or whichever saint we aspire to imitate. Our goal—God’s goal, in fact—is that we would become our own saints by allowing Jesus to conquer and transform in us every last vestige of resistance to Him.

Another saintly feast happened to coincide with the second day of school—the Assumption of Mary—and it’s a feast that highlights two realities that are pertinent here. First, Mary is our prototype for becoming saints. All we need do is utter our “yes” like shthe-assumption-and-coronation-of-the-virgine did, and God will do the rest.

And, second, by living that “yes” and persevering, we can anticipate sharing in Mary’s heavenly reward—something we affirm every time we recite the Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Mary blazed the trail for us—you, me, everybody—and we have her maternal support and guidance to help us follow her to Glory. Pope Francis said as much on Assumption Day when he spoke of Mary’s Magnificat as “the song of hope,” which is also “the song of many saints … some famous, and very many others unknown to us but known to God: moms, dads, catechists, missionaries, priests, sisters, young people, even children and grandparents.”

Even Dougs.

You have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect
.
[Hebrews 12:22-24a, NAB]

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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